Question on James Smith’s ‘Imagining the Kingdom’

A big point in James K.A. Smith’s ‘Imagining the Kingdom’ was the active role that the perceiving agent played in the constitution of the world – in Smith’s thought, man is far from being a mere ‘thinking substance’ or ‘rational animal’ at the mercy of sensory impressions and characterized primarily by ‘knowing’. Smith, however, later goes on to expound the nature and formative powers of social media in a way that really seems to undo the work he did by presenting man as an active animal. We seem to be entirely at the mercy of the formative powers of social media (Facebook, etc).

Smith argues for this by basically saying that products of human culture like Facebook encourage a certain way of acting by virtue of its built-in purpose (Smith doesn’t see things as merely neutral tools like many people would argue). There is a kind of narrative to Facebook, and to continually use Facebook (or any social media) is to be slowly shaped by that narrative. But I guess my question why are we completely passive in this process, when in every other aspect, we aren’t? Smith argues against conceptions of humanity that have us as passive receivers of sensory data – why have us as purely passive recipients of the formative powers of social media?

James K A Smith on the Formation of Social Media

‘So the very nature of social media encourages a certain social ontology; it comes primed with a social imagery, and to inhabit the Facebook world is to play by its rules. Over time, this becomes a formative exercise. In tangible but implicit ways, it inculates in us dispositions and inclinations that lean towards a configuration of the social world that revolves around me – even if we tell ourselves we’re interested in others. It is a classic example of a “pedagogy of insignificance” that exhorts the essential from the seemingly insignificant. While it purports to be simply a “medium”, it comes loaded with a Story about what matters, and who matters. And as we inhabit these virtual worlds – clicking our way around the environment, constantly updating our “status” and checking on others, fixated on our feed, documenting our “likes” for others to see – we are slowly and covertly incorporated into a body politic with its own vision of human flourishing: shallow connections for instant self-gratification and self-congratulation. And all of this happens precisely because we don’t think about it.’ (James K. A. Smith, ‘Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works’, p. 148)